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Preston in 1840

PRESTON, a town in Lancashire, in the hundred of Amounderness, on the northern bank of the Ribble, about 15 miles above its mouth ; 190 miles in a direct line north-north-west of the General Post-office; London ; 221 miles by the Birmingham, Grand Junction, and North Union railways (a distance traversed by the day mail in 10 hours) ; or 213 miles by the coach-road through St. Alban's, Stony Stratford, Daventry, Coventry, Lichfield, Newcastle-under-Lynne, Knutsford, Warrington, and Wigan.

Preston probably arose out of the decay of Ribchester (probably the Coccium of the Antonine Itinerary), now a village about 10 or 12 miles higher up the Ribble. It was held by Tosti or Tostig, son of Earl Godwin and brother of Harold, and was a borough by prescription, the privileges of the burgesses were extended by a charter of Henry II. without date. There was at an early period an hospital here: and Edmund, earl of Lancaster, son of Henry III, founded an hospital for Grey or Franciscan friars ; but from what foundation or at what period the town derived its name (Preston, i.e. Priest's town) is not known. The town was partly destroyed by Robert Bruce and the Scots, in one of their incursions into England (A.D. 1322). In the great civil war of Charles I a severe action was fought near the town on Ribbleton Moor (A.D. 1648), when the Duke of Hamilton, who was bringing an army from Scotland to aid the royalist cause, was routed by Cromwell and Lambert.

In A.D. 1715, the Jacobite insurgents from Northumberland, under Forster, took possession of the town; but after a brave resistance were obliged to surrender to the royalist forces. In the subsequent insurrection of 1745-46, the Jacobites passed through the town in their retreat : they attempted to entrench themselves here, but withdrew on the approach, of the Duke of Cumberland.

The town is on an eminence rising from the north bank of the river, and consists of a number of streets irregularly laid out, but tolerably well lighted and paved. Half a century ago Preston was considered the genteelest town in Lancashire, a distinction which it owed to the number of good families resident in the neighbourhood, to its being the seat of the law courts of the duchy of Lancaster, and to its comparative freedom from the bustle of trade and manufacture. It was then a handsome well-built town, with many good houses. Since then its character has materially changed; it has become the seat of a considerable cotton manufacture ; and factories, some of them on a very large scale, and houses are continually in course of erection. Nearly three-fourths of the houses are rated at £5 or less : they are however generally neatly and substantially built of brick ; and many are handsome and of large size: Near the town are several handsome villas. The town is supplied with water by an incorporated company. There are several pleasant walks in the neighbourhood, and a waste called ‘the moor’ adjacent to the town, containing 240 acres, over which the burgesses possessed the right of common, has been lately enclosed and laid out in public walks for the recreation of the inhabitants. There are two bridges over the Ribble : Walton bridge, on the road to Chorley, Wigan, and London, a. neat bridge of three arches, built A.D. 1782 ; and Penwortham bridge, on the road to Liverpool, a bridge of five arches, built in the middle of the last century. The parish church was formerly dedicated to St. Wilfred ; but the structure has been rebuilt, and dedicated to St. John. It has a square embattled tower, erected A.D. 1814, with clustered pinnacles. It will hold 1,500 persons. St. George’s church, built above a century ago, is a brick building, capable of containing 1,000 persons. The church of the Holy Trinity, capable of containing 1,250 persons, was built A.D. 1814. St. Paul’s in Park-street, and St. Peter's in the Fylde-road, are both Gothic churches, erected within the last few years by grants from the Parliamentary Commissioners : they are capable of accommodating 1,250 and 1,450 persons respectively. There are several dissenting places of worship ; and at least two Roman Catholic chapels, one of them a very elegant building. There are a custom-house, a town-hall (a neat building of brick), a county sessions-house and house of correction, a modern and convenient building used as a gaol and debtors' prison for the borough ; a commodious lock-up house, a neat theatre, a handsome suite of assembly rooms, warm and cold baths, a building for the dispensary, and a house of recovery from fever.

The parish of Preston comprehended in 1831 an area of 14,230 acres and a population of 36,336. It was subdivided into nine chapelries or townships : the borough and township of Preston contained 1,960 acres, and a population of 33,112. By the Boundary Act the township of Fishwick (area 600 acres, 759 inhabitants) was added to the borough for parliamentary purposes, and by the Corporation Reform Act for municipal purposes also, making the present area of the borough 2,560 acres ; the population 33,871. Subsequent increase is supposed to have raised the population to about 40,000. The number of house, in 1831 was 6,722, viz. 6,299 inhabited, 342 uninhabited, and 61 building ; the number of families was 6,749, only 130 of which were engaged in agriculture. The staple trade of Preston, till within the last half century, was in linens, for which it was a considerable mart, and some of which were manufactured here. Toward the close of the last century the cotton-manufacture was introduced, and is now the staple of the place, giving employment to 3,000 men, besides a greater number of women and boys. There are several iron-foundries, chiefly for making the machinery used in the cotton-manufacture. Some leather is made, and there is a small fishery on the Ribble. The Ribble is navigable at spring-tides for vessels of 150 tons: but it is ill adapted for trade : the shipping which frequent it are all coasters. About 30,000 to 40,000 tons of shipping enter the river or clear out yearly. Coal is brought to the town by the navigation of the river Douglas, which flows into the Ribble just above its mouth. The North Union railroad, and the Manchester and Liverpool railroad, connect Preston with those two great towns, and the Grand Junction and London and Birmingham railroads extend the same means of communication to the midland districts and the metropolis. The Preston and Wyre railroad, now nearly finished, connects Preston with the new harbour of Fleetwood at the mouth of the Wyre. Another railroad, in the course of execution, runs from Preston to Lancaster, another from Preston to Longridge on the Ribble, and a third, branching from the North Union, connects Preston with Chorley, Bolton, and Manchester. The Lancaster canal, which runs from Lancaster to Chorley, where it joins the Leeds and Liverpool canal, passes on the west side of the town, which it connects with the great canal system of the manufacturing districts. There are three weekly markets held in a spacious and well-paved market-place in the centre of the town : the Saturday market is by far the largest of the three, and is principally for corn. There are several yearly fairs; one of these, held early in January, is a great horse-fair.

The borough has been divided, under the Municipal Reform Act, into six wards ; it has twelve aldermen and thirty-six councillors. The jurisdiction of the borough magistrates is not exclusive, but the county magistrates do not in fact interfere. Quarter-sessions are held before the mayor, aldermen, and recorder. There is a Court of Record for all personal actions to any amount. Petty-sessions are held nearly every day.

A public festival, called a Guild Merchant, is held by the corporation every twenty years ; it is commemorated on the first day by a procession of the members of the corporation and of the different trades in characteristic dresses, with bands of music; and by a procession of the ladies of the town and neighbourhood, preceded by girls employed in the cotton-factory, on the next day. Both processions attend the church. The cost of this pageant is usually very considerable. Preston sent members to parliament in the reigns of Edward I and II, after which the privilege was lost or neglected till the time of Edward VI. The number of voters on the register, in 1835-6, was 4,204. Preston is one of the polling-stations for the northern division of the county.

The living of Preston is a vicarage in the archdeaconry of Richmond and diocese of Chester, of the clear yearly value of £665. The perpetual curacies are of the following clear yearly value :- St. George, £161 ; St. Paul, £95 ; St. Peter, £110 ; Trinity, £126. The curate of St. Peter has a glebe-house.

The township of Preston contained, in 1833, an infant-school with 135 children; twenty-seven dame-schools, with ,515 children ; an endowed grammar-school with 52 boys ; another endowed school (the Blue-Coat school), with 25 boys and 25 girls ; five subscription charity-schools, with 765 boys and 585 girls ; thirty boarding or day schools, with 1,318 children of both sexes ; and seventeen Sunday-schools, with 2,226 boys and 2,421 girls. Most of these Sunday-schools have lending-libraries attached. There was no school in Fishwick township. In the other parts of the parish there were two endowed day-schools, with 162 children (118 boys and 44 girls) ; two other day-schools, with 49 children (23 boys and 26 girls); and five Sunday-schools, with about 280 children.